Ralph Waldo Emerson

Now this will not probably interest most and it will step on a lot of toes but there is something that has been bothering me for many years and it costs you money. This has to do with Fire Equipment. I can feel a lot of hackles rising already.

I have several sites on my Facebook page that shows pictures of old fire trucks. Being retired from the best job in the world, I am guilty of admiring the equipment that has been used for many years. I even owned my own antique fire truck at one time. When I started on the Sedgwick County Fire Department (Fire District #1) the engine and tank that I drove were built a year before I was born. The Jeep was even older than that. These trucks were solid functional and dependable, even if they were old, and did fantastic service.

Yes put up beside the Wichita Fire Departments Seagraves and American La France engines there was a lot of snickering (except when the old trucks came to help the city out on a grass fire). Even with the age my first engine (Engine 3) had, it had around 36,000 miles on it. By anyone’s standards practically new. But they were at the end of what the ISO (Insurance Service Office) said was as old as you could run a truck and get credit for it as a front line engine.

We advocated the purchase of new chassis with four wheel drive and refabricate the pump and body, and install new booster tanks. Thus we would have had four new engines for the price of one custom rig. This did not happen.

Many smaller fire departments rely on the cast off engines from large departments to put into their stations at a cost that they can afford. Even smaller departments have to just give up on the ISO ratings and build their own equipment looking for cost and function without all the bells and whistles.

Looking at so many good solid pieces of equipment that go to salvage and to collectors it seems that the continued spiral of equipment costs is way beyond what it should be. An engine with 1000 GPM pump that sold new in 1971 for $80,000 would be sold today for around $250,000. That is just commercial chassis equipment. Custom equipment now ranges from $300,000. to $550,000. and up.

Why does the cost of fire equipment go so high? A variety of reasons. Part is the insurance requirements. Some of the cost is the need for a super looking super functional, no holds barred piece of equipment that instills great pride in political circles. There is always the need for the elected and unelected to make the taxpayer beam with pride that “we have a better looking truck and so and so”.

Manufacturers are also more than happy to inflate the cost of the equipment. After all when an engine or aerial has a life of 20 years you have to make your margin off of a particular department just every so often. Municipalities and districts for decades have had loyalties to particular companies and many thrived for a long time. American La France, Seagrave, Crown, and many others had great followings. Except these companies are now all gone. There are newer companies who have taken their place but the culture of the fire service is an awkward one to described.

The most familiar description is “three hundred years of tradition uninterrupted by progress”. Of course this is an exaggeration but the spirit rings so true. We can go into many technical issues that you would not understand (or it would bore you too death), let it suffice to say that all standards are governed by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association). And the NFPA is dominated by the huge urban departments.

Let me break things down on the cost of your protection either by the fire service or the insurance industry, it will be the same price. It is how you decide to spend it. You can have a great ISO rating and get a discount on your insurance premiums or you can cut the mill levy for the protection of the fire department and pay higher premium’s. No matter which way you go the ultimate cost will be the same.

As a citizen I would rather have excellent fire service. It is a shame that as a rural citizen the rules do not apply. We have a great fire department that functions with home built equipment and pay the ISO rate of 10. There is no allowance or funding for those of us out here. But the industry needs to take a good hard look at what the citizen deserves compared to the variance from urban to rural.

It would not hurt to have people on boards that actually understand all of this. It is amazing at how many do not. There is also some outstanding fire board members who do understand. As it is a little reality could be put into the conversation on all levels.

Here in Kansas the laws that govern the fire service date from the 1940’s, 50’s, & 60’s. Different laws and interpretations are thrown in the mix and it makes for a legal nightmare. There needs to be a group that can sit down and go through all the fire service laws and regulations and revise them to actually apply to the 21st Century. I have advocated through at least 4 different Representatives over the last 40 years to do this. I get a nice smile and pat on the head and nothing is ever done. Guess there is no Supreme Court dictating how the Legislature has to do anything beyond schools.

Ever hear of ‘multi tasking?’

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